Ready To Make His Own Mark

By Tony Sauro – Posted Apr. 1, 2015 at 5:00 PM


Dwight Yoakam made such a positive impression on Brian Whelan that he left the band.

“Dwight helped me a lot in life and in business,” Whelan said of Yoakam, the Grammy Award winner with the big Stetson hat. “But he’s not my agent, manager or guidance counselor.”

So, Whelan — who played guitar and sang in Yoakam’s band for four years — doesn’t expect the well-respected singer-songwriter to exploit his status to help propel Whelan’s solo career.

“He’s good at everything,” Whelan said of the singer, songwriter, guitar player, actor, record producer and film director. “I learned a great deal. He taught me to always do what I want to do. I was so inspired by seeing him doing that, I quit the band.”

Now, as he prepares to release his second solo album of “power-pop rock ’n’ roll,” Whelan’s emulating the multi-faceted Yoakam by being “patient” and protecting his interests.

“It’s actually done now,” said Whelan, 33, from his home in Los Angeles’ Highland Park district. “I’m …  trying to find somebody to put it out. It’s a whole new kind of world out there.”

He comes “home” — sort of — tonight, playing a solo acoustic show at Stockton’s Whiskey Barrel Tavern. He’s opening for Easy Leaves, a Sonoma County duo of Kevin Carducci and Sage Fifield.

It’ll be special for him. Brian’s parents, Ginger and Mike Whelan, have lived in Stockton for 10 years. Mom suggested a really clever name for his upcoming album. Nobody’s talking, though.

Yoakam, 58, originally from Pikeville, Ky., has developed his own approach — revisiting the Bakersfield Sound of Buck Owens, from a Los Angeles base. Not Nashville. Not unlike Yoakam, Whelan mixes his own songs with cover tunes.

“My biggest influence is the ’50s, like Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry,” Whelan said. “Guys who wrote their own stuff. Jerry Lee Lewis. From that same era, stylists (Elvis Presley) who could kinda sing the phone book always have been a guide.  (My music) doesn’t sound like that. But it’s my take on it.”

So far, so good. His “Decider” debut (2012) was well-received. He played for the fifth time at the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW, in Austin, Texas) in March and will be heard on Yoakam’s “Second Hand Heart” CD when it’s released on April 14. He also played on Yoakam’s “3 Pears” (2012).

He’ll be a bit fired-up tonight.

“I really like Stockton,” said Whelan, who grew up in San Jose. “I’ve been coming there for a decade to see my parents.”

He’s met some “good friends,” including Bill Stevens, the city’s go-to guitarist. “I’ve seen a lot of the bands. I know a lot of people. I’ve never done a show. It’s very exciting and nice to be able to just go down the block. I love playing in California.”

No wonder. A Seattle native, Whelan moved to San Jose in 1996, when his dad, who works in banking, took a job. Mom is a volunteer coordinator.

“It’s weird,” said Whelan, who began playing piano at 8. “Since kindergarten assemblies, or every crowd to be assembled, I wanted to be up there.”

At Archbishop Mitty High School, he played guitar, bass — “a little bit of everything” — in band, church choir and musical theater.

After graduation, he wanted to “hit the road” as an 18-year-old musician. Mom and dad insisted on some security. He chose the University of Southern California after “just falling in love” with L.A.

“My parents said ‘we’d like you to have a fall-back position’.” Whelan said. “I hope that doesn’t have to work out.”

He’s established a dependable presence in L.A., with his own band and in the studio. His collaborations range from Berry to KISS. He’s a bit more focused on his own thing now.

“I wanna get it out soon,” Whelan said of the album recorded at the Station in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood. “I’m trying to be patient, but I want to get it out ASAP. It’s really good. I want it to be shown in its best possible light.”

Hopefully, his nickname — “the kid” — still will be relevant.

“I don’t feel much like a kid anymore,” Whelan said. “Ten years ago, I definitely had a baby face. That stuck with me. I feel like I’ve been on the road for 10 years. One day, I’ll be bald with a beer gut and they’ll still call me ‘the kid.’ Laughing all the while.”


— Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or Follow him on Twitter @tsaurorecord.